Sunday, August 30, 2015

Long Weekends

In addition to Myday this week, I also took Thursday off. I don't normally do that, but sometimes I just can't get an appointment on a convenient Myday. This time around, it was an appointment to do the two year transponder check on the airplane. Opinions vary wildly on just what needs to be done for a two year VFR check, but at the end of the day it is simply intended to ensure that the altitude being reported from my transponder in response to an interrogation from ATC radar is accurate.

I respect you enough to not feel a compelling need to explain to you why accuracy matters in a thing like that.

So, the two years was up and I had to burn a vacation day to attend to it, which isn't the burden you may assume it to be. You see, I seldom take vacation unless the CFO wants to, and with our current situation with family responsibilities, we're taking even fewer.  This usually results in having a whole lot left over in December, which in turn results in me sitting around the house wondering why I hadn't used the time when the weather had been better.

The appointment was made three weeks in advance, and would come within a week of the expiration of the previous check. To get to the appointment, I had to fly forty miles to the south. That in itself is not burdensome, but if the weather had been bad....

It wasn't, and I had a nice flight down to the airport where I would be getting the test performed.

The easiest way to test whether the system is reporting a correct altitude is to fool the airplane into thinking that it's flying. To do this, calibrated pressurized air is pushed into the pitot tube and a calibrated vacuum is applied to the static ports on the side of the plane.

I'll be you'd like to get a closer look at that, no?

Well, here it is. The device attaches itself to the plane like a remora attaches to a shark, then....



You wanted a closer look at the hot chopper in the background.

Well, here it is:

As usual, there was too much leakage in the pitot tube junction where the tubes join just behind the Rotax prop RPM reduction gearbox. That means the top cowling has to come off, but I actually carry tools for that very purpose in my just-in-case box.

Once the leak is bypassed, the calibrated pressures are applied.

We passed the MODE 3A test (whatever that is), but the transponder was still refusing to report altitude.

There are varying opinions on whether the fact that I couldn't get the transponder out of GND (ground) and into ALT (altitude) mode was the cause. The technician thought the mode would change automatically once the GPS measured ground speed (which we had no control over) reached a certain value. A Dynon service person believes differently, and I have no reason to doubt him.

But he wasn't there.

I jumped into the transponder settings and simply told it to respond to my efforts to put it in ALT mode.

Once that was working, the technicians used the antique "fool the airplane" box to apply the calibrated pressures, and a fancy new (and obviously expensive) electronic box to read the reactions of the transponder.

Bada-bing and $155 later, it was done. 

The weather remained good on Myday, so Jeff and I flew up to Mt. Victory for brunch at what I call The Grass Runway Restaurant.

Just across the street, there is a nice little antique shop. Just the place for finding my own "fool the airplane" box, right?

It had everything you look for in a rural antique shop: a pick-up truck, a dog, and friendly proprietors.

"They can't let it alone."

Let's be honest here: they don't even try!

Myday wasn't quite done yet. I cashed in a chip with a local guy that I have been helping as he gets acclimated to his purchased-already-flying RV-12 and had him introduce me to a friend of his that has one of the New Polaris Slingshots.

Never heard of the Slingshot? Well, I hadn't either, but once I did, I simply had to see one.

Our mutual friend seemingly forgot to warn him about me. As evidence, I cite the fact that he let me drive it!

Here are the impressions I posted on Facebook while still steeping in the afterglow:
I drove a Polaris Slingshot today. It's quite an interesting car/motorcycle. The engine and drivetrain are the same as those in the Pontiac Soltice which is itself a peppy little two-seater. This gives it a 174 hp, and at a curb weight of 1,700 lbs. that's a generous portion of power.
The power is delivered to the single rear wheel through a five speed manual gearbox and a carbon fiber belt. The belt makes a whining sound which increases in frequency as the mph increase (which will be familiar to Scott Kuhar since we hear the same kind of sound in iRacing) which I think it pretty cool. The gearbox is tight and crisp. The clutch suited my tastes, but the accelerator seemed overly stiff to me. 
The ride is a visceral marriage of mechanical feel that speaks to you as a driver and a nearly cycle-like feeling of being more like a pedestrian moving quickly than a driver ensconced in a bubble. 
The brakes were very good. 
The steering is a little bit disappointing. The steering wheel itself is nice, albeit of too much diameter to give a truly racer feel. The extra diameter is needed, though, because the steering is somewhat stiff (which is fine - you would expect that with no power steering) because it feels like the shaft is plastic on plastic. In other words, it feel like the resistance was because of friction in the steering system. It was enough friction to keep the steering from returning to center on its own. I've never seen that in a car before. 
I adjusted to the feeling and response of the steering soon enough - it was just the first couple of turns that felt like I was having to provide too much input. Once I got the feel for it, I could see how driving this thing would be a study in self-discipline. It's amazingly fun to drive. The ride is softer than my old Miata, but has far better feel for the road than my SLK. 
It felt like... freedom.
Would I ever buy one? Well, maybe, but not new. They go for around $20k, which isn't horrible, but they are really more like a motorcycle than a car, and therefore fall solidly into the "toy" category.

For that I will wait to see what comes up in the used market in a few years,

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Hunter, The Hunted

With a stellar Myday forecast in the offing, it came time to decide what to do with it. Kyle, Assistant Aerodrome Manager for Jackson County, was also interested in making some form of aerial journey, so we got together on out most favored communications channel (chat messages on Words With Friends) and worked through a few options. The most favored, and thus selected, option was to travel up north to the Land of Cleves, which in modern times goes by the name of Cleveland.

Well, not precisely Cleveland... just the neighborhood around their lakefront airport. Burke-Lakefront Airport, named after the contemporaneous mayor at the time of its inception, is the only surviving lakefront airport (at least within reasonable flying distance) having convenient access to the eponymous downtown area adjacent after the unfortunate demise of Chicago's Meigs Field, which fell victim to a somewhat less visionary mayor, Richard "May He Burn In Hell" Daley.

The neighborhood around Burke Lakefront offers a number of attractive touristy-type attractions within easy walking distance, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (never been, never will), the Great Lakes Science Center (often visited for the rest rooms), and a football stadium that serves as the home base for a mediocre NFL team (I jest, I jest!).

We would go to none of those places.

Living in the shadow of those mainstream touristy places are a couple of attractions that are more appealing to the discerning visitor: the USS Cod, and the SS William G. Mather. Devoted readers of this and past blogs penned by yours truly will surely recall my previous visits to the USS Cod and the torrent of photos that are always coincident with those postings (this time will be no different), but the Mather is new territory.

As my home base is more or less on the way from Jackson to the Land of Cleves, it was decided that Kyle would stop at Bolton, where we would put his plane in my hangar and continue northward in my plane. Mostly because he wanted to get a look at my fancy new autopilot, I suspect.

Or he said. These days, I really can't tell the difference.

I've been wanting to get in some practice with flight planning in the SkyView, so I took some time platting out a flight plan that would include a handful of waypoints, rather than just using my normal methodology of using Direct-To navigation. Because I usually find it easier to circumnavigate controlled airspace than to talk with the controllers, most of whom simply vector me around their airspace anyway, I plotted out a route that would require no contact with ATC until it was time to call the control tower at Burke.

You can't see if from the chart, but part of the routing was intended to avoid the controlled airspace over KOSU, and part was to stay under the 3,000' shelf of the more complex airspace around Cleveland-Hopkins.  The OSU waypoint would quite likely not be needed as it would be a simple matter of being higher than 3,400' by the time we got there, which would moot the need for even bothering with it. I added the waypoint anyway because one of the things that I wanted to practice was skipping ahead to the next waypoint in the plan should an opportunity for a shortcut present itself. There are two ways of doing it and I had some confusion over how they differed (since resolved) - this will be the subject of another how-to video shortly.

The area around the destination has, as I mentioned, somewhat more complicated definitions.

The airport at Medina is under what I call the 4,000' shelf, but in reality is an area vertically bounded at 4,000' at its bottom and 8,000' at its top. You can see this in the 80 / 40 figure in the read rectangle in the lower right corner. Soon after crossing Medina, we would have to be lower than 3,000'. I like to leave some kind of buffer when it comes to complying with Federal law (at least when I know they're looking), so we would cross Medina at 3,500' and descend to 2,800' very soon thereafter,

It is this kind of flying that is most assisted by the autopilot. It's busy airspace up there, and I knew I would be dividing my attention with the plethora of piloting duties that are incumbent with this kind of arrival. Not having to stress over blowing through that 200' barrier would be very helpful indeed.

In the event, it actually was a comparatively busy approach, as compared to the usually docile environment around Bolton Field.  I contacted the tower over IXORE (the waypoint where the 45 degree turn to the left was scheduled to occur) and reported that we were ten miles south (south-ish would have been more accurate, but unnecessary). I even remembered to advise the controller that I was in possession of "information Tango," which is not all that easy to do if you aren't in the habit.

"Four Delta Golf report five miles."

Hmmm. We were soon to learn that the controller was a man of few words. Kyle described his style as 'curt,' while I went with 'perfunctory.' As it was a little of both, I'm going to categorize it as 'curfunctory.'

It turned out to be something of an acquired taste, which I failed to acquire.

There were a handful of planes operating in and out of Burke, including a small helicopter that was going touch and go landings.  I reported five miles out (unfortunately by misreading the SkyView screen - were five minutes out, not five miles) and the controller's reply was to ask how fast we were going. Ahh, salvation from my mistake:

"We're doing 123 knots, but will be slowing."

The first part was accurate, but the second part was downright Clintonian: I kept the speed up for a long enough period to hide the fact that we had actually been closer to ten miles out.

Most of the traffic landed before we got there, but as the controller decided that it was time to give us our final directions, has asked if I had the "Mooney on final in sight."

"Negative, looking."

Wrong answer.

"Widen your base."

I had to think about this a little bit as we weren't actually on base, or any other pattern leg, at the time. Just as I was deciding that he actually wanted me to start my downwind leg earlier than normal...

"Four Delta Golf, did you copy??"

I made the turn and pretty quickly picked up the Mooney.

"Burke tower, Four Delta Golf, the Mooney is in sight."

"Four Delta Golf, cut the corner of your base and make a short final."

Here's what all of that looked like, including the part where the not-at-all-normal landing pattern nearly caused me to line up for final on the taxiway next to the runway.

Once on the ground, I exited at Taxiway Charlie.

"Burke Ground (same guy, different frequency), Four Delta Golf clear of 24 Left at Charlie, taxi to park in front of the terminal."

"Four Delta Golf, where do you want to park?"

"In front of the terminal."

"Will you be staying long?"


[I wonder what he meant by "long?"]

"Burke Ground, Four Delta Golf, if it matters, we'll be here three or four hours."

"Okay, park on the ramp east of the tower next to the float plane."


At least they didn't try to park me in with the airshow display.

Once parked and having paid the $7 fee (higher than last time I was there, but still a bargain!) we walked over to the 'Hunter" part of the tour.

I never gave a lot of thought to what this hatch actually was used for, but this time I postulated that it was part of the emergency escape system, mostly because of the presence of the hammer. I thought it might be there to use for signalling.

I think I may have been correct:

I just love the variety of the pipes, gauges, knobs, levers, buttons, dials, lights, etc. that went into the operation of such an amazingly complex piece of equipment.

I have no way of knowing, of course, but I suspect most (if not all) of these mechanical controls are replaced with buttons and circuit boards now. Or.... computer screens, mice, and software.

Needs a cup holder:

Probably a more complicated flush mechanism than they have on the International Space Station:

And that's not even half of it!

Ah! Found the cup holder!

They won't let people up into the conning tower, which is unfortunate, but at least I could go halfway up the ladder to see the attack periscope:

The bow and stern planes, used to manage the pitch of the boat, took quite a bit of attention and effort to control:

At the end of the day, it's a lot like a locomotive: the big diesel engines are used to drive generators - the motive force comes from electric motors:

At this point, I'll share that I found the tour much more interesting this time, having first watched this video that goes into pretty deep detail about the workings of one of these things:

From there we moved on to the "Hunted."

Which, to be honest, isn't at all accurate - the two vessels existed and operated quite a few decades apart, For a real example of the hunted, you would have to look to the Jeremiah O'Brien, a Victory Ship that I toured a couple of years ago.

The SS William G. Mather was a Lake Erie cargo ship and therefore pretty unlikely to ever have been in jeopardy of being sunk by a submarine, much less an American one. But The Hunter, The Hunted made such a nice title...

Artistic license aside, here are some factoids to introduce you the the Mather:
When the Steamship William G. Mather was built in 1925 by Great Lakes Engineering Works in Ecorse, Michigan, she was considered the latest word in ship design, propulsion, navigation equipment, and crew accommodations. She was the flagship of The Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company fleet until 1952. The Mather's principal trade pattern was iron ore from the Lake Superior region delivered to steel mills in lower lake cities such as Cleveland. Sometimes she backhauled coal from a Lake Erie port to a Lake Superior port.

As built in 1925, the William G. Mather was powered by a four-cylinder quadruple expansion reciprocating engine of 2,300 horsepower. Steam was produced in coal-fired boilers. The ship was repowered in 1954 with a cross-compound steam turbine that developed 5,000 horsepower. The boiler is now fueled by oil. The system was designated as a historic landmark in 1995 by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
In 1964, the Mather became the first Great Lakes vessel to have fully automated boiler controls which were developed and produced by Bailey Meter. They were monitored and operated by the engineer on watch from an engine room console. Economics and changes in ore-carrying contracts caused the Mather's usefulness to dwindle. After 55 years of operation, at the end of the 1980 season, Cleveland-Cliffs permanently laid up the Mather in Toledo, Ohio.
More info is available at the link provided above.

In the size comparison chart, the Mather is 2nd from the top:

No idea what the function of a 'Trimmer' is, but here's something interesting about Frank Morrison & Sons.

The amenities as compared to those of the Cod are something to behold!

As is its size!

This is the antenna direction controller and display for the Radio Direction Finder:

The idea was to use the RDF unit to find the bearing to a known transmitter as shown on the chart below. With two (or more) bearings, lines could be drawn on the navigation charts to determine the ship's position via triangulation.

I knew all of this, of course, but I politely allowed the docent to demonstrate it anyway:

Similar to the hammer codes on the Cod, the Mather used its steam horns to send signals:

It's hard to tell from the 2D image, but the little bend in the handrail is intended to guide your hand away from the edge of the deck to the right of it:

I do not believe these labels to be part of the original configuration:

How do you keep hot liquids from sliding off of the grill in rough water?

There is always at least one oil can:

I'm not sure when they started counting, but the propellers have turned at least 22,495,961 times!!

I really got a kick out of these hints for various arrivals:

This seemed like excellent advice:

The departure out of Burke was nearly as hectic as the arrival, but quite scenic:


The Nascar Junior League (not sure who sponsors it anymore - XFinity or something like that - to me it will always be the Busch League) was practicing for the Saturday race at Mid-Ohio raceway as we flew over:

All told it was roughly three hours of flying, and it was great practice for working with flight plans in the SkyView. I was also a little surprised at a couple of things that the autopilot did or didn't do as I expected, so there's still some improvement to be had there.